The Old Maid
( Originally Published 1918 )
PROBABLY a good many of my readers, when the above heading catches their eye, will feel inclined to say, as did the old farmer looking at a circus poster of a two-headed calf, "There ain't no such critter." True it is that to-day we hear almost solely about single women, and even the term "spinster" carries with it no such suggestion of contempt as that embodied in the two words, "old maid."
Some few years ago the phrase, "bachelor girl," was a popular one, and we still have her with us, though the name is less used. The bachelor girl is an unmarried woman, of almost any age, who has gone out into the world of business and is leading her own independent, and generally very efficient, life. She carries with her no suggestion of failure. No one could ever think of her as a remnant on life's bargain counter. She has remained unmarried because no man came into her circle of friends who possessed enough attractions to woo her from a life of "single blessedness." It would sometimes seem to be something of a reflection upon the men of the present time, when one looks over the women who would have made such splendid mothers, but who have persistently remained outside of the bonds of matrimony. The bachelor girl has managed to escape the narrow life and weazened existence of the traditional old maid; but has she after all nothing to regret?
There are many allurements in the single life. There is, for example, the greater freedom which comes to one who has no one's needs or desires to consider but her own. She can live her own life, which is what so many of us clamor for in the early years of adolescence. She is free to let her ambitions have full sway, and she may, therefore, achieve success—in some instances a note-worthy one. Yet we may ask ourselves, Is she always satisfied?
While she is young and everything comes her way, she is too busy climbing from one point to the next on life's ladder to ask herself this question. When she reaches middle life and finds that she has achieved all that she dreamed of, and possible more, there is little room for this question. But as the shadows of life begin to gather around her, and she finds herself left more and more alone because those of her own generation are silently departing to other shores, more and more frequently must the question return to her, "Is this all? Has it been worth while?"
She sees no young lives ready to take up her work where she must drop it, and carry it on to a still fuller fruition. She discovers that she grows old faster in these later years than do her married friends, because their life is renewed in their children. They live in a constant atmosphere of healthful good spirits and activity, which keeps the blood circulating faster, and continually stimulates them to greater physical efforts, which result in stemming the rising tide of old age. Life has brought to the bachelor maid many compensations, but it has not brought these most lasting ones. While she felt, in her earlier years, that she was more fortunate to be able to carry out her ambitions than those whose responsibilities interfered with them, now she finds that she has nothing to look forward to, and that the fulfillment of her early ambitions fails to satisfy her. Her life will end when she dies. There is no one to carry it on.
The single life is freer, it may be, from responsibilities, from obligations, from burdens, from the need for self-sacrifice ; but it is also lacking in the richer joys which come through the service of others and in the love that springs from the closest human relationships. The nature of the woman is not developed to its fullest extent if she has spent her lifetime alone; and the very burdens which seemed to her to weigh down her married friends prove to be the blessings which brought into fullest expression the rich treasures that lay hidden within their natures.
There are many young women, it is true, who are compelled to stay outside the estate of matrimony. There will be many more, because of the hundreds and thousands of young men whose lives have been consumed by war. What compensation is there for them?
Although they may never know the intimate joys of marriage, there is no reason why they should be deprived of the deep and lasting happiness of motherhood. Without any doubt, the greatest, the most lasting, most satisfying happiness that comes to woman, comes through the gratification of her maternal instinct, and it need not necessarily be her own children who bring to her this satisfaction. There are today thousands of little children left orphans because of war, and no woman need ever be without little children in her home.
Neither should she be afraid to face the possible consequences of an heredity with which she is unfamiliar. We must remember that through the workings of this law, good is handed on just as inevitably as is the bad, and in a much greater degree. The abnormal tends always to its own destruction. It is only the normal which can be handed on down an indefinite line of generations.
We have allowed this thought of heredity to become too great a bugaboo, and too often have allowed the richest blessing to slip from our grasp, just because we were afraid of what might develop within the life. Read the stories of those who have dared to adopt unknown little ones and see what wonderful things have been accomplished by them. It may call for wisdom, tact, patience, unfailing love, to overcome the nature that is born a little twisted in one way or another, but it is those very things which develop in the mother the very richest part of her own nature. Adopt a child while it is still an infant in arms, and in six weeks' time you will be unaware that the child is not your own, and will probably re-sent any remark which brings the fact to your mind.
There can be no narrowing of the life into selfish channels when the responsibility for another human being has been gladly undertaken. There will be no drying up of the fountain of life as the years go by, but rather will it grow richer and fuller from year to year. Thus may the bachelor girl insure herself against the dreaded fate of ever becoming that pitiful creature, the traditional old maid.